Saturday, 1 February 2014

Politics for Outsiders: an educational mission

If a high proportion of people are poor at basic maths, there will be an outcry about deficient numeracy. If large numbers cannot read or write, we will hear of a crisis in literacy. But when the vast majority of people have little grasp of politics, there is barely a murmur about the collapse of democracy.

Politics has been caught in a vicious downward spiral because a few have managed to alienate the majority from the process of public decision-making. Intense lobbying, campaign finance, and tactical threats from the wealthiest 1% (or less) of the population have come to shape the policy agenda for everyone. And this hegemony will continue if most citizens remain ignorant of why and how they must stop being outsiders, and engage in politics to defend their collective wellbeing.

Educators have a vital role to play in clearing this miasma of misunderstanding and kindling instead an appreciation of the importance of taking inclusive political action. There is no shortage of learning resources that can be utilised. The ‘Politics for Outsiders’ collection (along with its companion Learning Guide), for example, brings together what have been developed through academic criticisms and practical policy trials, and provides a coherent set of materials to explain why:

• The concentration of power in a few inevitably leads to the exploitation and oppression of the rest, and it can only be countered by concerted political action;
• The model of inclusive community life provides a basis for consensus-building and provides criteria for critically assessing public policy proposals;
• The dangers of not opposing fundamentalist agendas (be they based on the abuse of wealth, religion, or social differences) must be widely and vividly shared;
• The use of cooperative problem-solving in dealing with social and economic challenges is far more effective than top-down or uncoordinated alternatives;
• The conditions for holding people responsible for the consequences of their actions should not be blurred by sophistry or amoral denials.

By drawing on ‘Politics for Outsiders’ and the writings by other thinkers and practitioners, educators can design courses that will not only inoculate other citizens from the infectious myths deployed to distort political realities, but also help them cultivate the informed and critical mindset needed to reconnect them to policy making in the public realm.

‘99%’ is a potent term to remind us of the vast majority who are left outside the decision-making establishment. Educators, our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to show them the way back in to reclaim the democratic control that should be exercised, not just by a privileged few, but by us all.


Anonymous said...

The country was made and government established by ordinary men who wanted freedom and liberty. It has been taken over by professional politicians who pander to power and money. We all need to be involved in our government by investigating and exploring into the people we put in office. So many are taken in by smooth rhetoric and false promises because they are uneducated about politics. I believe most college educators are quite liberal and should be very careful to show both sides of the issues at hand.

Henry Benedict Tam said...

Some teachers may worry that explaining why the claims of certain politicians are false or misleading could lead to them being regarded as 'biased'. Educators should be confident together in telling it as it is.

Life is more than sound bites said...

Educators must back up everything they explain by proven facts that cannot be disputed. Perhaps that will prevent them from being regarded as 'biased'.

Anonymous said...

A fact that is beyond dispute is a rare thing, and an over-reliance on 'the facts' when it comes to the delivery of political literacies isn't any less fraught - facts can be disputed, and facts alone won't drive people to either create change in institutions, or create an accountability in the political class.

We would all do well to stop pretending that there is a parity of influence in the dialogue between the interests of the political class and those of the people they represent. Thinking that 'bias' is a problem presumes that such equilibrium exists and that education can be neutral. That fact that we experience a democratic deficit and see education as a way of learning our communities out of that deficit proves the lie to the idea (to paraphrase an eminent Latin American educator) that education can ever be neutral. Neutrality, it would seem in this instance, tends to come at other people's expense.

Unknown said...

People are disengaged from politics because it is too distant. Political decisions should be made at a much more local level. Local Government should be moved to a much smaller geographic level and there should be real devolution of decision-making and tax raising. This will make for a more accountable democracy where voters will know who are making decisions, what they are and feel they can have an influence through their vote.

Unknown said...
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Ann Walker said...

Interesting idea to link the resources together as a collection.

Have you seen the new Bite the Ballot and National Voter Registration Day campaign?

Also worth drawing attention to the Electoral Register (Access to Public Services) Bill 2013-14 - and the proposal to link voter registration with access to benefits and public services.

(I blogged on this at

Henry Benedict Tam said...

Getting people to register to vote is important and gets a lot of attention. Education can help to draw attention to also how people can register what the real political issues are - how to assess policy proposals, how to press for changes that address genuine problems. 'Politics for Outsiders' provides one set of learning resources alongside others to help pursue a key goal of social purpose education.